I have never given chickens much thought. I hear random things about their lifestyles (free range, caged, organic, fertilized, and so on). I occasionally feel gratitude to them for being a staple in my diet (although I try not to dwell on it). And the amazing egg is my favorite fast food at all hours of the day or night.
About this time last year, my next door neighbor built a small, luxurious coop on the other side of our fence. The sawing and hammering stopped, then constant, innocent peeping began. Three tiny chicks had hit the poultry lottery and were settling into their cushy new condo.
I fretted about nasty smells and irritating sounds, none of which materialized. Each time I stepped out my door a flurry of peeping, and eventually clucking, greeted me. The neighbor coos to them, causinig me to wonder: Are chickens like dogs and cats? Do they respond to baby talk?
Well, yes, actually they do. As I’ve gotten to know these little ladies, I have discovered they are very social indeed. When we humans talk about the pecking order at home, work, or play, we probably aren’t thinking about chickens. But spend a little time with chickens and you’ll see where we got the phrase.
Charlotte clearly rules the roost and has taken it upon herself to keep the other two girls in line. She sports deep orange body plumage with extravagant blue and green tailfeathers. She knows she’s gorgeous and doesn’t take any guff.
Eavesdropping on their conversations, I have learned there’s a certain tone when they are contented, another when their owner talks to them, and a frantic cackling when they are out of sorts. When a satisfied twitter follows some raucous squawking, chances are good someone just laid a new egg.
One recent quiet Saturday, Charlotte clucked and squawked in an alarming new tone . My neighbor came out and shushed her, but she was inconsolable. Starting to really worry, I stuck my head out the door just as the ruckus stopped, and just in time to see a big fat squirrel leap from the top of the fence to a nearby tree. Charlotte had given him a piece of her mind while sounding the alarm to everyone within earshot.
I was happy to receive a few of the ladies’ first eggs last week and ate them with gusto – and toast. Other than summer veggies, I’ve never been so close to my food source, which is at once deeply gratifying and slightly disconcerting, mainly because I’m certain I could not eat the birds now that I “know” them. Fortunately, they are strictly layers, so we can avoid that dilemma. The bottom line is I now have a “guard chicken” close by who is as good as any dog when it comes to the neighborhood watch.
Do you have a suburban chicken story to share? We’d love to hear from you!